Torii Mor Pinot Blanc 2014
Wine: Torii Mor
Region: Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon
Grapes: Pinot Blanc
Vines: Sustainable; LIVE & LEED certified
Torii Mor Winery is in Oregon's Willamette Valley in the Dundee Hills AVA, where many of the state's top pinot noir producers reside. They are a "pinot house" as well, and like many of their Oregonian brethren, they make gris and blanc versions, too, which are all in the pinot family. Here we have the generously flavored and delicious blanc from Burgundy-born winemaker Jacques Tardy.
I had not encountered Torii Mor with any real meaning or reaction for several years until I saw it sitting on a shelf at Keife and Co a couple weeks ago. I remember the wines, specifically the pinot noirs, as having a bit of a cult following back in my NYC days, and that they were Parker darlings, although I can not find evidence to support that latter statement. I'm certain they were a buzzed about winery at Pinot Camp when I attended in 2003.
The first Torii Mor vintage was 1993 with just over 1,000 cases. Since then, the Olsen Estate vineyard, originally planted in 1972, has been LIVE certified and become home to their gravity-fed winery, which is powered in part by solar panels. The building is LEED certified, and production has reached 10,000 cases spread over about 25 different wines, many of which are made in the 150 to 200 case range. Not all the wines are 100% estate fruit; this bottle is a blend of purchased grapes from the nearby Winkler vineyard in Yamhill Carlton and the Misty Oak vineyard in the expansive Umpqua Valley AVA, a bit further south and slightly warmer.
I typically will not research a wine until I've tasted, or more often, drank it. Not exactly blind tasting, but it does lower my pre-conceived ideas of a wine and its producer by a few variables. If I like a wine and want to write about it, then research ensues, as was the case for this bottle. As I combed through the Torii Mor website, which has an abundance of information about their wines, I was kinda floored by their transparent use of yeasts.
yeast strain flattery
These days, it's practically taboo to admit to inoculating fermentation with commercial or cultivated yeast. I've talked with many winemakers who don't tout their produce as being "native" or "natural" or "indigenous" catalyzed, even when they could be. Often when we talk about natural yeast fermentation, we believe those yeasts came from the vineyard, as if each cluster is one with the berry it rode in on. Sometimes yeasts live in a winery and become their own native, homesteaded strains.
Conversely, commercial yeasts have earned a reputation that lands them firmly in the "manipulated" column. Manipulated wine has its own soured reputation, which is why so many wineries and winemakers keep that news in their laboratory vaults, whispered only when prompted. A manipulated wine is one that's assumed to be divorced from its original naked state, its purest expression of variety, soil and climate - its terroir. It's been messed with, rode hard and hung up wet, depending on the extent of manipulation and your personal feelings for the opposite. I have to admit, purity is quite romantic, though inherently impractical.
Most winemakers will admit that, among their greatest fears is a stuck fermentation. When the alcohol gets too high for the yeast to survive, the yeasts run out of sugar to eat, or the yeasts are not plentiful enough to chow through the abundant grape sugar, the process halts before the wine is finished. Relying solely on naturally occurring yeasts is risky business. If you ask outright, I'm guessing most winemakers are going to admit they inoculate or have inoculated with commercial yeasts. It's pretty much a fact of business in modern winemaking. Even the über naturalists, with a few exceptions, will throw in some cultivated strains if it looks like they're about to lose an entire vintage to underperforming magic makers. Romance doesn't pay the mortgage.
But the folks at Torii Mor print it right on the tech sheets, balls out. The pinot blanc in question was jumpstarted partly with the D47 strain in stainless steel tank, and a portion of the wine fermented in neutral oak danced with the CH9, F33 and DV10 yeasts. Commercial yeasts are known for enhancing, accentuating and imparting flavor profiles not exactly translated directly from the earth. This is where the debate gets interesting, and interesting still because Torii Mor straight up says, "The yeast strains were selected to accentuate ripe fruit flavors and provide a richer mouth feel." Click through the yeast links if you want to know more about how each one participates.
Wine is cooking. Oak is often likened to salt in the kitchen, how much, when and what kind is the dealer's choice. Sure, yeast can be seen in the same light. But I wonder, and only in a slightly argumentative manner, how a wine that is deliberately crafted through yeast selection can also be touted as representative of terroir, or place? Which is to say, "Old World." At what point does that word surpass honest application?
I'd be curious to know when you, my dear readers, think the hazily defined vocabulary has earned a place at the tasting table and it when it should be abandoned. As for the Torii Mor clan, transparency is its own form of authenticity.
Torii mor pinot blanc 2014
I found this wine a tad richer than my typical go-to, which is not a negative. It was powerfully aromatic with end of season ripe orchard fruit and lemony tones. On the palate, the acidity was certainly present, but it was more languid than lively. Good finish, tasty all the way through. If you're in the mood for a Bourgogne blanc or village level white Burg, this has similar attributes for a few less dollars.